As anyone who lives in Atlanta knows, the recent collapse of I-85 makes the city’s already frustrating traffic a serious impediment for the next few months. Cutting off a major artery to the downtown area will wreak havoc on nearly everything happening in and around the city, which includes the daily operations of the Braves and Hawks. Since the road’s implosion happened only a few days ago though, its full effects are somewhat unknown. In short, residents of Atlanta are still a little uncertain over just how bad traffic is about to become.
That uncertainty applies to the Atlanta Hawks as well. The playoffs are just under two weeks away now, but the team’s position in them seems almost impossible to predict. Atlanta went from sole possession of fifth place, to a tie for fifth place, to now sitting a full game behind the (now fifth place) Milwaukee Bucks over the last few weeks. The Hawks’ performance over this past week didn’t add much clarity either, since the team continued its streak of inconsistency.
In terms of game results, Atlanta went 2-2 over this last week. The Hawks picked up two wins over the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers after an embarrassing home defeat to the Brooklyn Nets. Any momentum from these two games didn’t last though, as Saturday brought a disappointing road loss to the Chicago Bulls. The team’s injury struggles — especially with Paul Millsap — make these losses a little more understandable, but the Hawks had a reasonable path to victory in all four of these games.
Fortunately, missing the playoffs altogether is very unlikely. FiveThirtyEight gives Atlanta a 93% chance of making the playoffs (as of Saturday evening, just after the Chicago loss). However, slipping any further would lock the Hawks into a first-round matchup with either the Boston Celtics or Cleveland Cavaliers, hardly a favorable outcome for the end of the regular season. As things stand now, Atlanta could draw either the Toronto Raptors or Washington Wizards in the first round. As good as these two teams are, avoiding Cleveland is far more important than anything else.
With only two weeks left in the regular season, every game takes on additional importance now. Atlanta plays Brooklyn this evening, followed by a home game with Boston on Thursday and an away game against Cleveland on Friday. With the Cavaliers and Celtics locked into a battle for the top seed in the East, there’s a very good chance that both teams will be playing with even more urgency than normal.
Fortunately, Millsap may be close to a return. The AJC’s Chris Vivlamore reported that Millsap participated in recent workouts. There seems little reason to bring him back for the second half of a road back-to-back against the Nets, but having the team’s best player for the Boston and Cleveland games would be a nice boost. Atlanta can still get back to fifth place with some wins, and the team also needs to play well to avoid falling any further down the standings.
March and April (so far) have not been kind to the Hawks. Injuries and losing streaks have cast a significant shadow over most of the team’s early season success, but there’s still enough time to get some nice wins before the playoffs begin. In any case, Atlanta will look to provide more clarity for their playoff position this week, especially as the schedule gets more difficult again.